Leon’s body tensed up as he saw the inferno he had met during his first trip to the underworld. She nodded in Damian’s direction, some kind of code, and then motioned for someone to step out of the dark halls. When Leon saw who it was, his body grew rigid. Charlotte Gray, the woman he thought would be his mother-in-law one day. “Charlotte!” He called out, reaching for her. She stood still, shivering. When she saw his hand near her torso, she recoiled and let out a strangled cry. “Charlotte, it’s me.”
“Maybe she hates you for making her take your place,” The inferno said with a simple shrug. “I know if I was doomed to a life of darkness after I had worked so hard to escape it, I’d hate you too.”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Gray. I never meant for this to happen! Please, talk to me. Say anything. Let me know that you’re alright,” Leon cried out desperately. “Please tell me you didn’t let the darkness get you.”
“Is it really you?” Charlotte asked after a moment of silence exchanged between the two. “Or, is the darkness just playing tricks on me again?”
“It’s me, Mrs. Gray. Leon Sikes. I came to make things right.” He took a small step towards her and she made no move to flee. “I’m sorry I did this to you. I’m so sorry. I know this isn’t your fate.”
“If I was out in the light, you would be dead and my daughter would be devastated. I couldn’t do that to her,” Charlotte replied calmly. “Is my daughter okay?”
Leon bit his lip and looked down at his shoes. “No one knows where she went. She just disappeared. But, don’t worry. I’m going to find her and free her darkness. Then, you can leave and you two can live a happy life.”
“Oh Leon, you can’t do that for me,” Charlotte replied, taking her own step towards him. “You’re a young man. Live your life. Have a family of your own. I’ve lived long enough. I can handle a few centuries of darkness.”
“No!” Leon exclaimed, startling everyone in the otherwise silent room. “To hell I’m going to let you rot in here. This is my curse and if I don’t give myself up, Graciela will never be rid of the darkness. I can’t let that happen. You guys have treated me like one of your own for so long. Even when I was gone and came back, you treated me like a son Mrs. Gray. Don’t for a second think I won’t rescue you.”
“You grew up to be an amazing man. Your parents should be proud.” She extended her arm, briefly touching his chest. “There is another way to take away Graciela’s darkness but my dear old grandfather is being very tight lipped.”
“It’s called a deal,” Damian said with a simple roll of his shoulders. “You can’t rid the world of darkness, it will always be there. So, you must make a deal with the darkness. If the light doesn’t expunge it from the vessel, then you need to give it a new vessel.”
“Me,” Charlotte said, balling her hands into fists. “Darkness, you already have me. Just take me and leave my daughter alone!” Charlotte shouted into the air.
“It’s more complicated than that…” Leon noticed how Charlotte’s expression changed, realizing there were other people in the room with her. The girl who had spoken, Veronica, waved slightly. “Uh, my name is Veronica Lilly. I’m an ancestor of Leon’s from a long time ago. Around the same time that the curse was placed on your daughter by the goddess of light, Ellora. The darkness cannot choose it’s vessel, that’s not part of the Treaty of Balance. If you want to switch a vessel without using Leon’s light, you’ll need to call upon her.”
Antone introduced himself to Charlotte and agreed with Veronica. “She’s right, but Ellora can only be called upon by a priestess or another god, neither of which anyone really has access to. And even if we did have either of those people, Ellora is very unforgiving. She sees only how to keep the world bathed in light, she cares little for emotional pleas.”
“Do something!” Charlotte cried, looking at Damian. “You promised that if I came to you when you called, that you would protect Graciela.”
“I can’t exactly save your daughter if she remains to be seen. No one knows where she is and without one of those fairies with the white wings, she can’t come here,” Damian replied.
“If Leon doesn’t know where she is…” Charlotte approached Maric would had hoped to go unseen throughout this debacle. “You. You have to know where she is.”
“Me?” Maric asked, stepping back and slamming into a wall. “Why would I know where she is?”
“You’re the real Altiere, aren’t you?” Charlotte pressed. “Every vampire knows that you have unmistakable strength. How do we know that you can’t locate her? You and Graciela were close when you were younger. Please, if there’s any chance that you can find her you have to help.”
“I don’t remember anything about that past. I’m not…. I’m Maric Endar. I can’t be anything else.” Maric frowned.
“That’s who Graciela loved,” Charlotte said softly. “Don’t forget all that you did for her. She really cared about you.”
“Well not anymore. I’m not the pure light like Leon is. I’m just some scary ancient vampire to her. You know she hates me. There’s not anything I can do.”
“A lot of time has passed,” Leon said. “She can’t hate you forever. Not after you took such good care of her while I was gone. She didn’t want to leave you in Fortitude. She told me that herself. Maybe now she’s a little disillusioned, but you just have to show her that you’re the same Maric she knew.”
“Even if all of that’s true, I can’t do anything. I don’t have the power that you think I have. What is it that you all think I’m capable of doing?”
“You’re our father,” Veronica cried out. “You took us from our parents and had us raised as tools of war. We can train you to get that power back but Damian has to allow us passage to Moonlight Falls. That is the only place where you can safely train without wandering eyes. There are people out there who want to harness your power for something bad- we already talked about this.”
“In the sealed dimension, our actions can go unnoticed,” Antone added. “Please sir…” He turned towards Damian. “You have to allow us passage. What is it that you want?”
Damian looked at Maric as if he was a piece of steak dripping with blood. “That is for Maric’s ears only. Would you like to have a chat?” He motioned for the vampire to follow him deeper into the depths of the Underworld. Maric looked around uncertainly, but followed Damian anyway. There was a lot riding on his shoulders and he knew for everyone’s sake, he couldn’t let them down.
for the seat of Keeper of Magic? Casimir had been in power for nearly 12 years but had a strong foothold in Altiere’s rule. Like the other keepers, he showed no hesitance in cutting a deal with the vampire ruler. Alistair thought that enough was enough. The mages needed to stop only looking out for themselves and join forces with the other occults to take down Altiere once and for all. Though with Damian and Declan both largely out of the picture, the man had become a subdues presence, he was still a threat. It was clear the vampires were favored and that was the biggest problem. “You nervous?” Callen asked, coming up behind his husband. “Sorry I had to take a separate car. Adalia did not want to stay with the sitter.”
“Don’t you think we’re a little too old to be having a toddler floating around the house?” Alistair asked.
“Stop lying, you love being a dad.” Callen’s smile grew as he stared at the man he loved. He hadn’t ever wanted to have another kid, but the idea of raising a family with Alistair? That was what he had dreamed about when he was younger. A family. He loved being a dad to Braylen but with Adalia it was different. He didn’t have to do it all on his own. “A dilf, if you know what I mean hot stuff.”
“You’re such a dork,” Alistair said, rolling his eyes. He patted Callen’s vest with the palm of his hand. “I see you tried to dress up.”
“Oh, I’m going to be the husband of the newest Keeper. I need to dress the part, don’t you think?” He winked at Alistair, enjoying the look of appreciation in his eyes. He knew that his husband loved seeing Callen in something other than a tank top. “Hey, you’re going to kill it out there. I know you will. These people weren’t ready for you when we first got here, but they are now. Be the leader they need. Casimir can shove it.”
“I love you,” Alistair said, leaning up and placing a kiss on Callen’s lips. If he was here, then Alistair knew he’d be able to power through this debate. Everything would be okay.
Adriana looked on at Jared who was sitting outside of the house, looking up at the sky. The smile on his face made her heart skip a beat. She carefully walked up to him and sat down beside the boy. Jared remained uncommunicative in the twelve years that she had known him but that didn’t mean he wasn’t highly intelligent and thoughtful. “Winter is doing her hair but when she’s done we’ll be leaving.” Jared looked at Adriana and nodded simply. “Are you ready for the debate tonight?”
He shook his head, letting his hair smack him in the eyes. He reached up and rubbed them- stopped, and rubbed them again. “Do your eyes hurt?” Adriana asked. Jared shook his head violently as if telling Adriana she couldn’t be more wrong. “You don’t want to go tonight?” Her relationship with the Jared was unlike any relationship she’d ever had before. Though he didn’t speak a word, she understood him better than she understood most people. The others, Winter especially, would grow frustrated when they didn’t understand what Jared was trying to tell them. Maybe it was Adriana’s patience that had drawn the boy to her side, or maybe it had something to do with her power to understand. She thought her power only allowed her to talk to animals, but she was beginning to think that wasn’t the case at all. Adriana believed that her power allowed her to understand anyone who couldn’t communicate with humans.
Jared grabbed hold of her arm, sending a shockwave through Adriana’s body. He pointed towards the sky and then covered his eyes as if he was playing peekaboo. “Oh, it’s dark out.” Jared nodded, but she got the feeling that he wasn’t talking about the night sky. “The darkness doesn’t always have to be scary. We’re sitting out here right now aren’t we?”
Jared reached over and grabbed Adriana’s hand. Then he turned and pointed towards the stars that lighted up the darkening sky. “There’ll always be light. You’re right. It won’t be dark forever.”
“If Alistair becomes the Keeper again, things will be different,” Adriana said. She watched Jared intently as he shook his head lightly. “You don’t think so.”
He made an X with his fingers and pointed to his teeth. Jared had canine fangs, but Adriana got the point. “He has to get rid of Altiere.” Jared gave her a thumbs up. “He can’t do it alone. One star doesn’t light up the sky. Lucky for him he has a lot of little stars that want to help them out.” Jared pointed upwards rapidly, a signal he had often used to describe “more” of something. “More than a little? Do you think more are coming, Jared?” Jared nodded, a peaceful smile on his face. Adriana looked on at him in admiration, wanting to be able to lay her head flat on his chest and hear his heartbeat.
But it was then that the others had stormed out of the house. Jared kept his smile as he looked at Adriana and helped her up. She took his hand graciously and allowed him to lead her towards who she now considered her family. Braylen, Winter, and Ethan. She had missed her brother, but things weren’t so bad now that she had others to rely on as well.